Yesterday, the lights came down. It’s been our New Year’s ritual for nearly forty years. After all of the preparations and church services and dinners and gift exchanges and a gathering around our table to ring in the New Year, January 1 has been our day to come back to earth. Drawers get cleaned out, bills get processed, trash cans get stomped down, and the Goodwill pile goes into the car.
But somewhere on this day, I usually escape into my study to reflect, assess, and think about what I hope the new year brings. Given my pending retirement, 2016 will be anything but typical. If there is anything I am hearing in these days, it is God calling me to be more devoted to prayer. Actually, a better word here is relentless, unyielding, ruthless, obstinate—take your pick.
There are these stories in the Bible used to illustrate what God expects of us when we pray: a shameless neighbor pounding on the door until someone gets up and answers; a woman persistently pursuing a judge until he is nearly worn out. This is what I hear Jesus saying to me, and I believe the body of Christ, in 2016—
-Ask—what is it you are asking God for this year? Be dogged, enduring, and indefatigable
-Seek—what are you seeking? Passionately pursue, search it out
-Knock—what door are you wanting to see open? Keep laying hold of God’s willingness and power to open closed doors! (Luke 11:9)
He doesn’t tell us what we will receive, only that we will; He does not tell us what we will find, only that we will find; He does not tell us what will open, only that doors will open and some will close. But it requires shameless praying. A brief survey in other parts of Scripture seems to affirm this—
-Abraham pressing God, haggling over a city
-Moses arguing with God over the fate of a people
-Jacob wrestling with God until God gives His favor
-Job and Jonah and Habakkuk questioning, withstanding God’s ways
-the widow and the judge, the Syro-phoenician woman and Jesus
I finally finished Peter Taylor Forsyth’s book, The Soul of Prayer. The last part of this dense, but timely, read underscores the importance of staying at it. He writes, “Prayer is not really a power till it is relentless.” Other classic writers who have written on prayer affirm his words. E.M. Bounds notes, “Prayer in its highest form and grandest success assumes the attitude of a wrestler with God.” Walter Wink adds, “Biblical prayer is impertinent, persistent, shameless, indecorous. It is more like haggling in an outdoor bazaar than the polite monologues of the church.”
More than any other year, I learned in 2015 that sometimes it takes unabashed prayer to change things. There were three things I became relentless—at times even shameless—in my petitions before God. It’s not as if God is some manageable power to coerce and exploit, but I learned that relentless praying has a way of separating the essential from the non-essential. It is also His way of preparing me for His answers. God used dogged, stubborn prayer to enlarge my heart, one that needs more space and more space.
If God is to build vigor and stamina and grit into our spirituality, it will not come apart from a relentless pursuit on our knees. Hard to think of a greater challenge—a better challenge, for 2016.